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How Saturday's loss puts spotlight on Rochester Grizzlies’ historical dominance

The Rochester Grizzlies have been nearly unbeatable on their home ice in their four-plus year history. That made Saturday's 5-3 setback to the Oregon (Wis.) Tradesmen all the more surprising. But the loss showed just how dominant the Grizzlies have been at the Rec Center since the franchise was established in 2018.

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The Rochester Grizzlies salute the crowd after falling to the Oregon (Wis.) Tradesmen 5-3 in a North American 3 Hockey League game on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, at the Rochester Recreation Center.
Jason Feldman / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — The numbers on the scoreboard late Saturday night didn’t sit well with Per Waage.

The third-year Rochester Grizzlies defenseman takes it to heart when the score isn’t in his team’s favor, especially when it is playing on its home ice.

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The Rochester Recreation Center has traditionally been a frustrating place for opposing teams. In the Grizzlies’ four-plus season history, they have a record of 81-13-2 on their home ice. That’s an incredible .862 winning percentage.

In the three-plus seasons that Chris Ratzloff has served as the team’s head coach, that number is even more astronomical: Rochester’s home record is 65-6-2 since the start of the 2019-20 season, a .915 winning percentage.

So when the Grizzlies get outscored and outplayed on their home ice, the rest of the league takes note.

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Per Waage

That’s what happened Saturday when the Oregon (Wis.) Tradesmen controlled a North American 3 Hockey League Central Division matchup from start to finish, building a three-goal lead 21 minutes into the game en route to a 5-3 win. The Grizzlies dropped to 5-1-0 overall this season with the loss.

“If we take our feet off the gas, it’s going to come back to bite us,” said Waage, a key member of last season’s NA3HL national championship team. “We have a target on our backs. If we don’t bring our best game, we see it — every team is bringing their best game against us.

“If we don’t bring our best, we’ll get embarrassed like that.”

Here are five more takeaways from Saturday’s loss:

1. Oregon flips the script

The Grizzlies have been so difficult to play against because of the pressure they put on opposing teams. Rochester has been outstanding in the past — and at times early this season — at taking away the other team’s time and space, forcing them to make quick decisions, which often result in turnovers.

Oregon played that role Saturday night, taking the game to the Grizzlies and outshooting them 24-19. It’s the first time the Grizzlies have been outshot this season and when Oregon scored the game’s first goal, it marked the first time since the Fraser Cup semifinal against Helena (Mont.) on March 26 that Rochester had trailed. It snapped a streak of 408 minutes, 7 seconds in which Rochester had either played tied or with the lead.

“Oregon did what it had to do,” Ratzloff said. “They got pucks deep, pressured us, took advantage of our mistakes. We turned pucks over, then had no ‘D’-zone coverage. They had three goals where their guy was standing all alone in front of the net. Hats off to them. It’s disappointing for us. We talk about climbing the hill and getting better every time we step on the ice. We took a big step backward today.”

2. No guarantees

Waage and Ratzloff said Saturday’s loss should serve as a good reminder to all 31 players on the Grizzlies’ roster that spots in the lineup are never guaranteed. Counting a pair of injured defensemen, Rochester has 28 skaters (15 forwards, 13 defensemen) on the roster. Only 19 of them can suit up on game day.

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“In a way we needed this,” Waage said after Saturday’s loss. “We were going into games thinking we can just run through teams and that’s not the case, especially in this division. It’s a good lesson to take away. We have a tougher week next week (at rival Peoria on Friday and Saturday), so we have to work harder in practice and guys have to earn their spots.”

3. Protect their own end

The Grizzlies gave up 30 shots in Friday’s 6-1 victory. They were outshot 24-19 in Saturday’s loss. It’s rare that either of those things happen.

They hadn’t allowed more than three goals in their past 22 regular-season games, and they hadn’t trailed by three goals in a regular-season game in that same span.

“We need to get back to playing at our pace,” Ratzloff said, “and be able to roll four lines and have them all play at that pace. We have a lot of offensive skill, maybe too much. We maybe haven’t focused on ‘D’ enough in our games. We’ve talked about it and worked on it, but it needs to be a mindset in games of ‘defense first.’”

4. Effort in practice

Waage has played under some high-quality captains in his two seasons in Rochester — Peyton Hart, Matt DeRosa and Garrett Smith two years ago, Cole Gibson and Justin Wright last season — so he knows when to be tough on his teammates and he knows how to help younger players live up to the team’s expectations.

It all starts, Waage said, in practice.

The Grizzlies will need a good week of practice this week as they prepare to play at Peoria, which like the Rochester Rec Center, is a difficult place for opponents to win. Including the postseason, Rochester went just 1-3-1 at Peoria last season.

“It’s just working hard, making simple passes, simple plays,” Waage said of what the Grizzlies need to do be successful. “When we talk about our systems in practice, the guys have to listen and pay attention, and do the right things.

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“It won’t correspond to the game if we don’t do it in practice.”

5. Preparation on, off ice

Ratzloff took Waage’s idea a step further. The Grizzlies’ young players need to learn that preparation doesn’t mean just practicing hard or having the proper focus on game days. It means doing the right things 24/7 to be successful.

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Ratzloff

“Preparation is a huge thing,” Ratzloff said. “For a lot of these guys junior hockey is new and they don’t understand it’s not just show up and play a game in front of your friends (like) in high school ... The whole week has to build up to the games.

“Honestly, just being mentally and physically prepared for practice is big, too — get enough sleep, eating right, being healthy. I hope there’s a lesson there that we need to be more focused. We talk about it all the time, that our goal isn’t just to win games and be better than our opponents. Our goal is to develop and get opportunities for guys to play at higher levels. When we lose focus of that, then we’re just average.”

Notes…

The Grizzlies made eight lineup changes for Saturday’s game after winning 6-1 on Friday night. … Albert Lea’s Joseph Yoon, an elite-skating forward, played his first game as a Grizzly. Yoon is a senior who will join Albert Lea High when the high school season starts in mid-November. … Defenseman Logan Schwartzhoff also played his first game of the season. The 6-feet-3, 215-pound blue-liner played in 47 games for the Grizzlies last season. … Rochester Mayo grad Tate Cothern dressed as the backup goalie for the second time this season. Cothern has yet to play in a game.

PB’s 3 Stars

No. 1: Sam Knight, Tradesmen. The Oregon blue-liner had a pair of assists, including the primary on a late first-period goal that gave the Tradesmen a 2-0 lead.

No. 2: Dillon Schmidt, Tradesmen. Schmidt scored the game-winning goal midway through the third period, beating Rochester goalie Lucas Henderson with a top-shelf backhand shot on a short breakaway.

No. 3: Per Waage, Grizzlies. Rochester’s captain played a solid game on the blue line and scored a third-period goal that briefly pulled the Grizzlies within one with five minutes remaining.

How They Scored

FIRST PERIOD

Tradesmen 1, Grizlies 0 (11:28): Just 2 seconds after the Grizzlies killed a penalty, Bryce Stensrud taps the puck past Rochester goalie Lucas Henderson. It’s the first time the Grizzlies have trailed all season, after playing tied or with a lead for the first 308 minutes, 22 seconds.

Tradesmen 2, Grizzlies 0 (18:13): The Tradesmen convert on a late first-period power play, as Sam Knight feeds Nathan Walker at the left faceoff dot and Walker hits the top corner with a wrist shot.

SECOND PERIOD

Tradesmen 3, Grizzlies 0 (0:17): On the first shift of the second period, first-line winger Carter Waters is left all alone in front of the net and Ben Parent fires a pass to him from the right circle for an easy one-timer.

Tradesmen 3, Grizzlies 1 (18:25): Just 33 seconds after the Grizzlies take their timeout, it pays off. On a 3-on-2 rush, Luke Sawicky shoots from close range and Zach Laurila is waiting at the top of the crease to put the rebound past Oregon goalie Tyler Fromolz.

THIRD PERIOD

Tradesmen 3, Grizzlies 2 (1:54): Rochester pulls within a goal on the second shift of the third when Northfield native Spencer Klotz beats Fromolz from the bottom of the left circle. It’s the fourth goal of the young season for Klotz.

Tradesmen 4, Grizzlies 2 (8:25): Off a faceoff, Dillon Schmidt picks up the puck at the Grizzlies blue line, gets a stride ahead of a Grizzlies defender then beats Henderson with a top-shelf backhand shot that popped the water bottle and put the Tradesmen back up by two.

Tradesmen 4, Grizzlies 3 (14:56): Some puck luck goes the Grizzlies way. Captain Per Waage carries the puck up the ice from his own zone and skates it deep into the Oregon end. Waage sends a pass to the slot and it bounces off a Tradesmen defender and past Fromolz to pull Rochester back within one.

Tradesmen 5, Grizzlies 3 (15:15): On the ensuing shift, just after the Grizzlies had pulled to within one, Easton Simpson sends a feed from below the goal line to Christian Tavare, who was all alone on the doorstep. Tavare quickly pops it past Henderson to give Oregon a two-goal lead again.

Box Score

TRADESMEN 5, GRIZZLIES 3

Oregon 2-1-2 — 5

Rochester 0-1-2 — 3

First period — 1. ORG, Bryce Stensrud 2 (unassisted) 11:28. 2. ORG, Nathan Walker 1 (Sam Knight 2, Ben Parent 1) 18:13 (pp). Second period — 3. ORG, Carter Watters 2 (Parent 2) :17. 4. ROC, Zach Laurila 2 (Luke Sawicky 5, Erik Hernborn 3) 18:25. Third period — 5. ROC, Spencer Klotz 4 (Lyncoln Bielenberg-Howarth 3) 1:54. 6. ORG, Dillon Schmidt 2 (Troy Tollefson 1) 8:25. 7. ROC, Per Waage 2 (unassisted) 14:56. 8. ORG, Christian Tavare 1 (Easton Simpson 1, Sam Knight 2) 15:15.

Shots on goal — ORG 10-11-3 — 24; ROC 7-7-5 — 19. Goalies — ORG, Tyler Fromolz (W, 1-1-0; 16 saves-19 shots); ROC, Lucas Henderson (L, 3-1-0; 19 saves-24 shots). Power-play opportunities — ORG, 1-for-2; ROC, 0-for-2. Penalties — ORG, 5-10 minutes; ROC, 4-8 minutes.

Jason Feldman is the sports editor of the Post Bulletin. In addition to managing the four-person sports staff at the PB, Jason covers high school football, golf and high school and junior hockey. Readers can reach Jason at 507-281-7430 or jfeldman@postbulletin.com.
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